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Sports and politics don’t go together in China

Marc before the start of the 2009 Shanghai Marathon

As many blog readers know I am an avid runner and over the past years I participated a few times in the Shanghai marathon. Not the healthiest run to join (air pollution!), but because it’s close to my home it’s an easy one to sign up for. The marathon has a lot of Japanese runners, because the main sponsor is a Japanese chemical brand called Toray. They name the marathon (Toray Cup), they provide the shirts (all have Toray in big letters printed on them), and you see their name everywhere around the course.

For 16 years Toray has been the title sponsor and this year they would again sponsor the race. On Monday organizers held a press conference with Toray management and some Shanghai government officials present. The event just started when suddenly other government told the organizers to stop the press conference.

What happened? Because of the new tensions about the Diaoyu islands (or the Senkakus in Japanese) the government felt that it could not allow Japanese sponsorship for the Shanghai marathon. So in the middle of a press conference they decided to tell Toray that they could not continue their sponsorship! Even for me, after all these years in China, this is quite unbelievable. What will now happen to this year’s Shanghai Marathon I don’t know, the website is currently down.

The Shanghai Marathon has had a Japanese sponsor for years, but now they seem to kick them out

If you wanted to run Shanghai but are not sure whether it will take place this year, you could of course also switch to the Beijing marathon. At least, in theory that would be possible, because that marathon is also facing political problems. Originally the race was planned for October 14, but a few days ago the organization heard that they would not get the necessary permits. The reason is that the National Congress of the Communist Party will likely take place during that time (the official dates have not been announced yet).

What will happen to the Beijing marathon this year is anyone’s guess. The website stopped its (Japanese!) countdown clock and gives no further information about the race. A marathon is a race that you need to prepare for months in advance, you can’t just suddenly run it 2 or 3 weeks later without a big problem with your training schedule. Many top athletes will have a serious problem now, let alone the issues they will face with their flight tickets and China visa.

Beijing marathon 2012 postponed because of Communist Party National Congress

And the Beijing marathon already had some trouble earlier this summer, when they found out that an entrepreneurial Chinese made a fake Beijing marathon website and got people to sign up and pay for participation in the race.

Beijing marathon fake site

I wonder if this will be the end for the Beijing marathon, I don’t think big athletes will come back again next year (if it even takes place), nor will foreign tour operators who now have a big problem to solve for the people who booked a trip to Beijing for this year’s marathon.

Shanghai will likely get government sponsorship to make up for the lost revenue from Toray, but will likely lose a lot of its participants. Tons of them were Japanese, and not only will these runners cancel this year’s participation, they also won’t return next year. Sports and politics don’t go together…

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  1. ‘Even for me, after all these years in China, this is quite unbelievable.’

    Maybe this is typically China. In politics you will never know what will happen and when it comes down to Japan, there has been a negative sentiment in China for a very long time, so I am not surprised.

  2. First time I ran the Shanghai Marathon, it’s website was only in Japanese and
    English. We ran on expressway part of the time, right next to cars which were barely moving – worst pollution possible! And
    twice the runners had to STOP to let cars and bikes get across. I’ve run 35 marathons and the Shanghai marathon is the worst of them all.

  3. The air pollution in Shanghai is indeed disturbing when your running but i still make it. Still a wonderful marathon, the people are welcoming and will run again there.